Thanks to Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, introverts [me] seem to be the latest craze. Psychology Today online has a dedicated section called The Introverts Corner. Bing offers nearly 2 and a half million results for the word “introverts”. There are blogs, articles, how-to guides, etc. all about us and for us.
These helpful resources did not exist when I was growing up as an “introvert” [introverts weren’t cool like they are now]. With a lifetime of social events ahead, I had to figure out how to become the incomprehensible extrovert on my own. I would closely observe my extrovert friends and attempt to mimic their behavior. Having nothing jovial or warm about my personality and no natural acting ability, I usually came across more wild eyed and crazy and/or all “hepped up on goofballs” [favorite Simpson’s quote. Also, “You can’t make friends with salad.”] than someone who was genuinely excited to be socializing at a party.
After a couple decades of doing a really poor job pretending to be an extrovert, I decided I was much better at being an introvert and I really should hone those skills. It was pre-internet, so I had to come up with my own guidelines.
Try to be responsive if someone engages you in conversation
This was/is a difficult skill to master because I often don’t know what to say. Not because there is nothing going on in my mind [although that does happen frequently, like when my husband talks about work or football]. It’s because I’m sorting through my ridiculous [often funny, well, I think], conversation-stopping thoughts.
For instance, I might be at a cookout. Someone might comment on the new charcoal grill the host just fired up. The first thing to pop into my mind might be, “Ooh that charcoal reminds me of when our dog was cremated. The ashes were that same shade of gray, well maybe a little more on the taupe side. He died…in my arms…while I wept uncontrollably. Nothing we could do. His liver was covered in cancerous lesions.”
I now know not to say that [cancer, death, constipation, and it’s polar opposite—diarrhea, etc. generally end conversations and make people “concerned” or “wary” of me]. With all that self editing going on, I sometimes end up staring into space slightly too long and it appears as if I’m having a petit mal seizure. Working on that.
When I can’t think of anything to say that’s reasonably normal, I try to give compliments. Typically, I like to look for an area rug so I can compliment the host and remark on how it “really ties the room together” [favorite Big Lebowski quote. Also, “I am the walrus” and “You want a toe? I can get you a toe, believe me”].
It’s okay to leave
When I’m really ready to party, i.e. go home, put on sweat pants, get a glass of wine, and play Words with Friends [introverts do have friends—though I’m not personally setting any FB friends records], I just say, “I gotta go. Thanks so much for having me.” I used to say way too much, feeling a sense of obligation to provide a reason for my departure. Since I usually didn’t have a reason, something like this vomitous paragraph would spew from my mouth:
I gotta go. Um, I left my clothes in the dryer and the moisture sensor isn’t working. In fact, I should just call the fire dept, likely the house already burned down. Well, really, I have to get up early to get to work. Oh right, I don’t have a “real” job, but I should still get some work done around the house, run some errands. ‘I just have a big day tomorrow… going to home depot…and maybe bed, bath, and beyond…I don’t know, I don’t know…’” [Favorite Old School quote. Also, “Spanish! Do you trust that we have provided you with enough rope so that your cinderblock will fall safely to the ground?”]
Hugs and kisses can be avoided
Double cheek air kisses and hugs upon arrival at a gathering are not legally required. So I try to avoid them by having my hands full of coats, wine/a hostess gift or cookies [that I bought and put on a ceramic plate to make it look like I baked them].
I walk in briskly and look for a place to put down my loot. Once I am out of things to carry or put away, I keep my arms close my body, being mindful not to outstretch them even slightly. Ardent extrovert friends standing nearby may misinterpret the subtle movement as an invitation to come in for the hug [which, as it turns out, isn’t really all that bad].